Movies for Breakfast AQUAMAN Review
It has been over a year since DC has hit the theaters, but they are finally back with Aquaman!
Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.
It has been over a year since we last had a DC movie hit the theater with Justice League. Now Aquaman is returning in his own film. Helmed by director James Wan best known for his work with the Saw series. He previously directed the underwater scene in the Justice League movie, so this isn’t his first time at the director’s chair for Aquaman even though it is the first movie. Even in that short scene he directed in Justice League, he learned to make a couple changes for this movie, like how everyone can now speak underwater. The physics used in the underwater scenes have not changed much from the scene in Justice League, but everything does feel more fluid. The water no longer acts like water to the Atlanteans and more as if they are floating in air. As long as they are in the water, they can move in any direction with ease and movement is not impaired at all for Aquaman, Mera, or any of the higher Atlantean people.
Aquaman takes place on the tail of Justice League. Steppenwolf has been defeated and Arthur Curry is back to his normal life. Except now, his brother is trying to take control of the seven seas and become Ocean Master. As Ocean Master, he will have control of all creatures of the ocean, and he intends to use that power to start a war with the land. Being his brother and only other person who can rightfully take the throne, Arthur is the only person that can stop him. Arthur who could care less about taking the throne is forced to in order to stop this war. Which doesn’t change throughout the movie, Arthur’s motivation is always doing this do he can be left alone. That is until the end when he magically want to be king, there is no buildup of his responsibility or tone to completing this task. Throughout Aquaman, he complains that he has to do this, not wanting anything to do with it, and then at the end within 30 seconds of screen time his mood on this changed.
It is almost surprising how much of a switch this makes, and the movie tries to explain it by pushing the idea that Arthur is ready to take the throne. Nearly every character says it every 20 minutes. Beyond the fact he is of royalty in Atlantis, there is no reason given for why everyone feels this way. That does not stop people from saying it all the time. Which is not a surprise since this movie likes to tell you everything that is going on, instead of showing it. There is enough exposition in this movie to fill the rest of the pltoholes in the DC Expanded Universe. Every detail of anything present in Aquaman is explained repetitively. Aquaman is the perfect example of the reverse of show, don’t tell. Every scene follows the same formula from start to end, the characters need to do a thing, they talk about the thing, then an explosion happens and they are forced to fight their way out of where they are to do the thing they were discussing. Nearly every scene of Aquaman plays this way. It is so formulaic that you can easily tell what is coming next at any point.
There are good things about Aquaman though; for starters, the cast for this movie could not be better. When I first heard Jason Momoa was going to play Aquaman I was very confused, but after his small stint in Justice League and his true introduction here I am happy to see him in the role. He grabs the role of Aquaman, and not only does he play the role perfectly, you can see he is having fun while doing it. Amber Heard as Mera is another casting choice that makes perfect sense as soon as she is on screen. She not only looks perfect for the role, bringing the character from the comic right to the big screen, but the character of Mera is acted perfectly. Then we have the villains of Orm Marius aka Ocean Master played by Patrick Wilson and Black Manta played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who both bring these characters from the comics to life as well. Even Willem Dafoe pulls the performance we have come to expect from him as the mentor of both Arthur and Orm. He plays the role of a mentor to Arthur, and his introduction into the world of Atlantis.
While Aquaman does focus on Arthur’s journey, we do get some good interaction between him and the two villains in this movie. The main villain being Ocean Master, or Arthur’s brother, who is aiming to destroy the people who live on the land for the pollution and devastation they caused to the ocean. While he is great in every scene, his cocky demeanor and attitude toward other characters is especially fun to watch. Every scene he is in, even ones with Arthur, he steals the spotlight. What I did not love was his transformation in the movie. He comes off as if he is evil for the intent of being evil. There is plenty of reason for him to be enacting on his plan, but instead of going down that path, he comes off as someone who is just there to come off as a bad guy. When first introduced to him he shows cunning and tactfulness in getting what he wants. He manipulates the people around him into thinking his ideas were their ideas. Then halfway through the movie his plan turns into stab people until he gets what he wants. Instead of coming off as more menacing during this turn though, he comes off more like a kid not getting what he wanted for Christmas and taking it out on the person in front of him. His transformation into this character is abrupt, and makes me miss the cunning and manipulative person we are first shown at the movies beginning.
Then we have the opposite of Ocean Master, with Black Manta. Who is a great villain, who is less tactful in his style of combat and actions. He makes up for this though in showing his amazing engineering skills and showing how tactful he can be as the movie progresses. He is not perfect, but he is the kind of villain I expected to see Arthur face. The only issue is Black Manta’s motivation for wanting to kill Arthur is not written very well. Beyond that though he pulls his own character and feels separate to Aquaman and Ocean Master in his own way. He is a person who starts the movie with a tone of doing things because he is evil, and then gets more tactful and smart as the movie progresses. He is almost the exact opposite of Ocean Master in terms of character development. While I can hope that this was intentional, showing how two villains can take events occurring in the movie and show the different paths they can take. Essentially flipping the style of their approach to problems, they come up against. That would be an interesting way to show the personality of these two characters. Aquaman does not play as if this was intentional. If it was intentional, it was not played made apparent that this is what they were aiming for. There is potential for this flip to come back around in future movies, but in this one it just comes off as amazing for Black Manta and then awkward for Ocean Master. I hope that we can see this as a growing path for Ocean Master in the future, or the starting point for a more menacing and tactful version of that character taking the best parts of both personalities he takes on in Aquaman.
If there is one thing that Aquaman gets right though, it is the designs and creativity used throughout the movie. It appears that after the events of Batman v Superman and Justice League, and even to a degree Wonder Woman, that DC finally realized there are colors outside of brown and brighter colors exist. Now most of the colors they found were blue and purple, but it is a start. The sets of the movie do have some darker moments, but we actually have stunningly colorful sets and environments these characters interact. Atlantis looks beautiful every moment it takes up the screen. Almost any point in the city of Atlantis can be paused and it would look amazing as a portrait. Then there are the costume designs within the movie. The costumes for the main characters look amazing taken from the comics. Seeing Jason Momoa don the orange and green spandex fish scale suit from the comics should look cartoony on him, but it looks right. Same for the costumes of Black Manta and Ocean Master, their costumes from the comics leap off the pages and into this movie without looking off-putting or awkward. Overall, this movie looks stunning, and the adapted work from the comics shows there was a lot of care put into making this movie look at good as possible.
Aquaman is not a perfect movie, but it does have many of the ingredients. While there are some problems with the villains, that does not stop them from being memorable and fun to watch. Aside from the constant exposition that breaks up the plot, the writing in this movie is well done. Aquaman is also one of the most beautiful movies I have had the pleasure of seeing in Imax this year. The movie is a step in the right direction for DC, and it better than some of their previous movies, and I am excited to see where Aquaman goes in the future. In this review I talked a lot of bad points of the movie, but that’s only because there is so much potential in it. I can see a sequel easily fixing the issues I have with this movie and can’t wait to see Aquaman return again.